Posts Tagged ‘salad’

Osmosis in the kitchen

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Lettuce should be fresh and crisp but upon storage water will eventually evaporate. The pressure inside the cells drops and the leaves shrink and become less appetizing. The simple yet effective remedy is to immerse the lettuce leaves in plain, cold tap water. The water will then diffuse back into the cells again. The process is known as osmosis [wikipedia].

For the following experiment I purposly left some lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. crispa, sold in Norway under the name “Rapid”, it’s a Summer Crisp/Batavian cultivar) to really dry out as you can see from the picture.

After approximately 4 hours in water the leaf looks like this. Notice that along the rim the leaf was so dry that the cells were damaged “beyond repair”.

To illustrate this relatively slow process I set my camera to take a picture every minute and left it for almost 4 hours. I then stiched it together and the resulting time lapse movie shows the process speeded up 720x (click if the embedded video won’t work).

The wonderful thing about this simple experiment is that it actually illustrates the essence of a recently rewarded Nobel prize (and I should thank Erik Fooladi for pointing this out to me)! The 2003 chemistry prize was awarded “for discoveries concerning channels in cell membranes”. The swedish Nobel foundation have excellent pages with further explanations for the public and for specialists alongside an illustrated presentation (recommended!). There are even two animations of which the first is also available on youtube (embedded below, poor resolution, download the original for higher resolution!). It shows how water molecules move through cell membranes: